The first element of Frank Gehry’s master plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art is now open to the public. The new restaurant, Stir, is the only fine dining establishment on the East Coast designed by the architect and, surprisingly, the only space in the museum where his signature style will be apparent.
Stir’s cozy dining room seats just 76 people beneath a large sculpture of crisscrossing Douglas fir beams hanging from a ceiling of curving wood panels. Affectionally dubbed “the nest” and “chips” by the architect and museum staff, the sculptural ceiling is complemented by custom leather banquettes and granite tables designed by Gehry Partners. The warm, intimate space is enclosed by frosted glass walls and an open-air kitchen. Guests can watch chefs prepare locally sourced seasonal dishes inspired by the museum’s new dining room, like roasted Griggstown chicken over a nest of braised green beans. “Every restaurant is about time and place,” said chef Mark Tropea, who created a menu that ensures the sense of place extends to the plates.
Gehry also designed the adjacent cafe, a well-lit casual cafeteria space that can seat up to 160 guests. Organized around a central serving station, the cafe serves up views of the city along with surprisingly impressive made-to-order dishes. And yes, there are cheesesteaks—artisanal cheesesteaks.
Stir is the first milestone on the long road to the renovation and expansion of the 1928 building, originally designed by a collaboration of architects including Paul Cret, the firm of Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary, and the firm of Horace Trumbauer, particularly Howell Lewis Shay and Julian Abele. The first phase of the renovation, The Core Project, will be completed in 2020. The stylistically subtle intervention will dramatically improve circulation and infrastructure with 90,000 square feet of new public space, including expanded galleries and tile-vaulted walkways.
Although visitors will have to wait a little longer to enjoy the refreshed galleries, Stir is open now with refreshments and a glimpse of the museum’s future.